Film (1960; vt The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse; vt The Diabolical Dr Mabuse). CCC Filmkunst/CEI Incom/Criterion. Directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Lang, Heinz Oskar Wuttig, based on characters created by Norbert Jacques, author of Dr Mabuse, Master of Mystery (trans Lilian A Clare 1923). Cast includes Dawn Addams, Gert Fröbe, Werner Peters, Wolfgang Preiss and Peter Van Eyck. Variously 99 or 103 minutes, depending on film speed; 103 minutes is correct. Black and white.
After a gap of 27 years Fritz Lang returned, in this West German, Italian and French coproduction, both to the character who had helped make him famous and from America in order to make what would be his last film. His other films about Dr Mabuse – the evil genius who seeks world conquest – were the two-part Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1922), also borderline sf, and Das Testament des Dr Mabuse (1933). Die 1000 Augen des Dr Mabuse, whose reputation has slowly revived from its negative reception on release, begins with a series of mysterious assassinations centred on the Hotel Luxor, but the police investigation, headed by Kriminalkommissar Kras (Fröbe), is initially frustrated by the failure of a mysterious medium known as Peter Cornelius – actually a seemingly Reincarnation of Dr Mabuse (Preiss) in disguise – to identify the killer. The action focuses on the Hotel itself, one of the few examples of monumentally "futuristic" Nazi architecture to survive, at the heart of which Mabuse manipulates the cast, which includes the suicidal Marion Menil (Addams): every room is wired for sight and sound, allowing him through his thousand eyes to televise every second of his victims' lives. He seeks control of an atomic-weapons empire as part of his scheme for international anarchy. He is ultimately thwarted in his goal, which is to gain control of the atomic-powered industrial empire of Henry B Travers (Van Eyck) and to thence bring chaos to the Western World, which he will then rule. The film gains power through its single-minded pursuit of images of totalitarian surveillance: screens, one-way mirrors, a blind seer, dark glasses, disguises, masquerades. Though the underlying plot lacks much sense, the film has been described, somewhat enthusiastically, as Lang's masterpiece.
In retrospect, Die 1000 Augen des Dr Mabuse can be seen as a direct precursor of the James Bond films inspired by Ian Fleming's political thriller sequence; Gert Fröbe's performance uncannily prefigures his role as Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger (1964). In Germany the film was successful enough to catalyse the making of five further Mabuse sequels (1961-1964) which Lang, now in his seventies, did not direct; they feature, successively, Zombies, Invisibility, post-mortem Hypnotism, a hypnotizing machine and Death Rays. [PN/JC]
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